Wild, winners of two in a row and three of five, and the Chicago Blackhawks, losers of three in a row, tonight at the United Center. The Wild's magic number is down to seven points after Phoenix's loss last night in L.A.
To further demonstrate how crazy the Wild’s goaltending situation has been this year, Ilya Bryzgalov will be the Wild’s fourth starter in five games against Chicago this season.
“Trying to keep them guessing,” joked coach Mike Yeo.
The Wild is 3-1 against the Blackhawks this season. The Hawks are without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane tonight, and even without them, the Blackhawks still have three players with more points than anybody on the Wild (leading scorer Patrick Sharp; my pick for the Norris, Duncan Keith; and future Hall of Famer Marian Hossa).
The Wild will be without Granlund and Darcy Kuemper tonight. Both returned to Minnesota to see team doctors. I asked Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher about whether the undersized Granlund must adjust his physical game if he wants to have a long career in the NHL. Yeo admitted the team has had internal discussions about this, and I’ll have more on that in tomorrow’s paper.
Nino Niederreiter skated this morning but won’t play tonight, Yeo said.
“It’d be silly on our part to rush him back. This time of year, let’s make sure we give him a chance to fully heal and get ready for the next one,” Yeo said. “We don’t want him to come back for one period and then lose him for three weeks here. Let’s just make sure we approach this with a bit of caution toward making sure we have him back and healthy for good.”
Yeo did say Niederreiter isn’t having any ill effects from the Jake Muzzin hit, but the team wants to be careful with a potential head injury.
Dany Heatley, scratched the previous two games, will return to the lineup on the fourth line with Stephane Veilleux and Jake Dowell.
Defenseman Keith Ballard, close to returning, will miss his ninth consecutive game with a groin injury.
I’ll be writing more about Christian Folin in the coming days, but Yeo was more specific today on whether or not he’ll play in any of the final regular-season games. Obviously, some of it will depend on circumstance. Remember, Nate Prosser, after signing as a free agent out of Colorado College, wasn’t supposed to play any games.
But then Nick Schultz and Marek Zidlicky got hurt and Prosser played the final three games of the 2009-10 season.
So, it’s hard to have a plan, but Yeo did say today it will be hard to experiment with Folin if the Wild is still trying to make the playoffs or clinch that first wildcard spot. The Wild’s four up on Dallas, which is playing well, has a cupcake schedule and has played one fewer game.
“If there were, I don’t want to say meaningless games, but if there were games that weren’t relevant standings wise, then maybe that’s a possibility,” Yeo said of playing Folin. “But our priority has to be No. 1 to get into the playoffs and No. 2 to make sure that all of our players and our team game are on top of things heading into the playoffs.”
If it turns out Folin doesn’t play, practicing now and throughout the playoffs will help in his future nevertheless.
#Blackhawks lines: Sharp-Shaw-Hossa, Saad-Nordstrom-Versteeg, Bickell-Regin-Morin, Bollig-Kruger-Smith. Teravainen out of the mix.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) April 3, 2014